INTERVIEW: Egypt, EU showing commitment to intensified dialogue and strategic cooperation

Dina Ezzat , Saturday 18 Jun 2022

Ahead of the ninth meeting of the Egyptian-European Union Association Council on Sunday in Luxembourg, the head of the EU Mission in Cairo Christian Berger spoke to Ahram Online on the prospects of further dialogue and strategic cooperation between Egypt and the EU.

Christian Berger
Head of the EU Mission in Cairo Christian Berger


Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell will chair the meeting, which will discuss bilateral relations along with regional and world developments.

Shoukry and Borrell are expected to sign a partnership priorities agreement that will decide the guidelines for cooperation between Egypt and the EU for the next seven years.

According to Berger, the 6-page document is divided into three chapters that cover economic issues — particularly trade and energy cooperation — coordination on foreign policy, and matters of stability and governance.

He also said that the content of this document highlights the breadth of issues that the EU and Egypt have been committed to working on since the signing of the partnership agreement 21 years ago.

In June 2001, also in Luxembourg, Egypt and the EU signed their association agreement after tough and long negotiations that lasted close to a decade, with the agreement going into effect in 2004.

Since then, the EU has been Egypt’s biggest trading partner, representing 24.5 percent of Egypt’s trade volume in 2020.

In July 2017, Egypt and the EU endorsed a partnership priorities document that should have lasted for three years and then renewed.

However, signing a new agreement was delayed for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and further negotiations.

In the months leading up to Sunday’s meeting, Egypt has been demanding lesser emphasis on matters of human rights and the EU in turn has been demanding more commitment to controlling undocumented migration.

In the new partnership priorities document, economic and environmental cooperation take centre stage, especially in the energy-related context.

The EU, Berger said, is committed to “supporting Egypt to become a hub of renewable energy in Africa and around the Mediterranean.”

Cooperation in energy has been gaining momentum between Egypt and the EU during the past months due to complications arising from the Russian-Ukrainian War, especially since European countries have been quite dependent on Russian gas exports and must now look to countries in the Eastern Mediterranean to fulfil their energy needs.

Last week in Cairo, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, Egypt’s Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Tarek El-Molla, and his Israeli counterpart Karine Elharrar signed an agreement to increase gas exports originating from Israel and Egypt, and possibly other East Mediterranean countries, to Europe.

The agreement was signed on the side-lines of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum that convened in town.

Egypt, Berger said, has great potential to be an energy hub, as it has a significant gas liquidation capacity. 

“We want to diversify to trustworthy suppliers, and Egypt is a trustworthy partner,” von der Leyen said during the signing ceremony of the agreement.

The European senior official was in Israel one day before coming to Cairo on Tuesday. There, she vowed that the European organisation will not allow Russia to blackmail European countries with their need for energy.

According to an agreement that both Egypt and Israel signed in 2020, Israel is already exporting gas to Egypt — both for export and local use. And according to the agreement signed last week in Cairo, Israel will increase its gas exports to Egypt through a pipeline to help increase exports to Europe.

European diplomatic sources in Cairo had said earlier this spring that Egypt had already increased exports to Europe to help some countries cope with the repercussions of the fallout with Russia.

Berger explained that Egypt is certainly an important destination for the EU to go to for gas in the short-term and for renewable energy in the long-term.

The agreement that Egypt and Greece signed last year to connect their electricity grids, he explained, makes Egypt “a powerful candidate” to contribute to Europe’s green energy supplies.

The deal that was signed in Athens last October came at a time when Greece, Cyprus, and Israel planned to build the Euro-Asia Interconnector — the world’s longest and deepest underwater power cable crossing the Mediterranean at a cost of about $900 million.

According to Berger, other highlights of economic cooperation between Egypt and the EU include water and irrigation projects. These, he said, are all covered in the economy chapter of the partnership priorities document “as flagship projects to which a budget is dedicated” from the EU, the member states of the organisation, and the European Bank.

He added that there are four billion euros already committed to these projects and did not rule out a possible increase.

Berger also argued that the economic and trade cooperation is only part of an “intensified dialogue” that his organisation and Egypt have been having over the past year with so many high-level visits to give a push to the partnership across the Mediterranean.

For sure, he said, von der Leyen did not just confine her schedule during her visit to Cairo last week to the signing ceremony of the gas deal. The top European official, he said, also discussed with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi the fallout of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, especially in relation to food security.

For her part, von der Leyen pledged immediate relief of 100 million euros to support food security in Egypt, which has taken a hit since the start of the war. The money is expected to help Egypt improve and expand its storage capacity and access new crops.

Egypt is the world’s top importer of wheat, relying on Russia and Ukraine for 80 percent of its wheat imports.

The war on Ukraine has had an impact on the world at large and Egypt particularly; not just because of its large imports of wheat, corn, and oil — the prices of which have soared — but also because of the increasing costs of transportation and the decline in the volume of tourism, Berger said. 

“There has been quite a lot of [global] instability that affects Egypt’s economy,” he said, adding that the EU is committed to reach out to Egypt at this time.

Berger also said that the EU attaches great importance to its relationship with Egypt as a key partner and regional player and underlines the strategic nature and potential of this partnership.

Furthermore, helping medium- and small-sized enterprises, Berger said, is a key factor of the EU’s plan to support Egypt.

He stressed that developments in the Middle East and around the Mediterranean — including the situation in Syria and Libya — will be top agenda issues for the Luxembourg meeting, as per the talks between von der Leyen and President El-Sisi.

On Palestine, Berger said that the EU is supporting the diplomatic work Cairo is doing to help with the two-state solution, stabilise the situation in Gaza, and pursue Palestinian reconciliation and elections.

On Libya, he added that the EU and Egypt agree on the need to strengthen the political process towards elections. 

The meeting of the Egypt-EU Association Council comes at a time when Cairo is heavily involved in preparations for the upcoming UN Conference of Parties on Climate Change (COP27) that will be held in Sharm El-Sheikh this November. The environment and COP are expected to be top issues for the Shoukry-Borrell talks.

During their talks in Cairo last week, El-Sisi and von der Leyen agreed on the need to increase environmental cooperation.

According to a press statement released by the EU, El-Sisi and von der Leyen agreed on the need to work towards “fostering sustainable development, combating climate change and environmental degradation, ensuring energy security, and a balanced and just green transition.”

“These are shared priorities for Egypt and the EU,” Berger said, adding that Egypt and the EU will consolidate efforts to maintain political momentum on the successful implementation of the Paris Agreement and achieve the ambitious goals of the COP27.

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